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Diamonds are forever for Durocher, family

Copper Country Legends

July 19, 2012
By Paul Peterson - For the Gazette , The Daily Mining Gazette

STANTON - His name is invariably mentioned whenever Copper Country Twilight League baseball is discussed.

But the late Leo Durocher was more than just a great baseball player. He was an organizer who took a keen interest in keeping the league alive and well.

"When you talk about people who have played a key role in the league ... Leo Durocher's name has to be right near the top," said former Stanton player Bill Koskela. "He was always very interested in making sure the league was going well."

Durocher's son, Daron, has picked up the role of facilitator in recent years. When the league was struggling earlier this year after losing two teams from a year ago, he was a major factor in seeing that it continued on.

The Durocher name has been a constant when it comes to sports in Stanton.

Leo's father Clarence was a manager, and later an umpire, working primarily home games.

When his grandson Dax began playing regularly this season, it marked four generations of the family involved in the diamond sport.

"Leo always talked about the day when he could be on the same team with his sons," his widow Mary said recently. "I know he would have been thrilled to see Dax playing this year."

But statistics don't tell the entire story about Durocher's career.

The late Merv Klemett kept stats on the league between 1958 and 1986 in his role as a manager for Hancock teams and a stringer for the Daily Mining Gazette.

His stats showed that Durocher batted "right around .410" during that time and won several batting crowns.

"And he did it with plenty of power," noted Klemett a few years ago. "I don't know of any lefthanded hitters who hit the ball as hard ... or consistently as Leo did."

After playing briefly in the old Sunday Baseball League in the middle 1950s with Stanton, he became a fixture on the Wildcat teams that enjoyed great success the next three decades.

After attending - and graduating from - Central Michigan University (he batted .310 for CMU as a walk-on) he returned to the area for good in 1967.

"Back in those days, it was very rare for a local baseball player to play in college," noted Floyd Wakeham, who played on the same team with Durocher between 1965 and 1999. "But he was really that talented."

Aided by players like Wakeham, Wes Kangas, Nick Persha, Doug Morin, Dan "Dapper" Ruohonen, Dennis Sten and his brother Scurb (Clarence), Durocher was instrumental in leading his team to several TL titles.

While he usually played shortstop, he also took his turn on the mound. He was effective there, according to Wakeham.

"Earlier in his career, he had a good fastball. Later on, he developed a number of other pitches, including a very good slider," Wakeham said. "He was probably the first pitcher in the league to throw a slider. He also had very good control."

When his three sons, Tom, Andre and Daron became old enough to play, he welcomed them to the roster. A daughter, Darcy, was also a fine athlete who played softball in the C.C. Women's Softball League.

"That was probably my biggest thrill in athletics - playing on the same team with the boys," he said in a 1996 interview. "But seeing all the kids do well in sports was great."

Baseball wasn't the only sport he excelled in. He played many years with the CLK Wolverines hockey team and was also a member of the Copper Country Chiefs between 1972 and 1975.

Longtime CLK player/coach Bruce "Cukie" Coppo said that Durocher was a hard-working member of the defense.

"We might have had other defensemen who had more raw talent than Leo (Durocher)," Coppo said. "But none of them worked as hard as he did."

Bob Erkkila of Calumet was a statistician for the C.C. Chiefs, and he remembers Durocher as "as someone who made himself into a good hockey player."

"He didn't have as much experience as some other (CLK) players," Erkkila said. "But he turned himself into a very solid defenseman."

Andre and Daron Durocher would go on to follow their father's footsteps in playing for the Wolverines.

But the Durocher family has had more than its share of tragedy.

Leo's younger brother, Jim, died in an auto accident in 1975. He was returning home after leading his team to a Jack Pastore Tournament championship.

His son Andre was killed in an auto accident while returning home just a few years ago.

And Leo died tragically at the age of 56 in 1999 when he collapsed at home plate during a game at the Stanton Field. He died on his way to the hospital.

Today, there is a memorial at the Stanton ballpark honoring him. And the Leo Durocher Memorial Tournament just completed its 10th year.

The Copper Country Junior Hockey Association, which he coached in for several years, awards a trophy named after him every year.

Erkkila said that Durocher established a lasting legacy with his play.

"He was, of course, an excellent athlete, but also a sportsman in every sense of the word. And he was an even better person."

Durocher was nominated for the U.P. Sports Hall of Fame several years ago.



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